Leadership in healthcare innovation

Posted by: on Sep 18, 2018 | No Comments

In a previous blog post, I wrote about innovative care models. On 12 September, I was a key speaker at a healthcare conference in Riyadh (Saudi Global Health Exhibition). The title of my presentation was “Leadership in healthcare innovation: What does it take”? Sweden, my home country, has a long tradition of fostering innovations and this is what I will focus on in this blog post. In fact, Sweden is the leading innovative country within the European Union (EU), followed by Denmark and Finland.

So how has this come to be? I will go through some of the key factors below. Part of the answer lies in investments in research and development. Sweden currently invests well over 3% of its GDP in research and development (R&D) while the average within the EU is around 2%. That means that Sweden is investing 50% more – and investments in R&D is of course key for a nation to become innovative.

Without a strong education system as a foundation in a society, it is hard for any nation to equip its citizens with the skills needed to be innovative. The recipe is first a good overall education. Sweden has a long tradition of free schooling. Already in 1842, the Swedish parliament introduced the first free compulsory primary 4-year school. The compulsory school was extended to 9 years in 1949. Sweden also has a long tradition of world-class higher education. The Uppsala University was founded in 1477 and the Lund University in 1666. They are not among the oldest universities in Europe but their reputation has been very high for many decades, even centuries.

Another factor, which is important to mention, is Sweden’s long tradition of triple helix collaborations. A triple helix collaboration refers to a cooperation between Public and Private Institutions as well as the Academia.

Swedes are considered early adopters when it comes to technology in general and the music and entertainment industry in particular. Below are some examples of great inventions, which Sweden is famous for:

-Anders Celsius, the astronomer, invented the temperature scale.

-Since safety is part of the Swedish DNA, it was of course a Swede who invented the safety match.

-The ball bearing and the zipper are other examples of Swedish innovations.

-The video-chat app, Skype, was launched by Niclas Zennström in 2003. In 2011, Microsoft bought Skype for $8.5 bn. Not a bad return after 8 years!

-The music streaming service, Spotify, is another example of what has come out of the Swedish tech innovation hub. Spotify was launched on 7 October, 2008. On 3 April, 2018, Spotify was listed on the New York Stock Exchange. The listing was very successful and several Swedes became multibillionaires overnight. Spotify is currently valued at $30 bn.

I also talked about how every year, on 10 December, the Nobel Prize award ceremony is held in Sweden (except for the peace prize, which is awarded in Norway).  Prizewinners include early innovators such as Albert Einstein, Alexander Fleming and Marie Curie. The first Nobel Prize was awarded in 1901, this is now 117 years ago. Interesting to note is that apart from inventing the dynamite, Alfred Nobel also held 355 different patents.

I ended the section about Sweden by talking about some very famous healthcare innovations, which have changed the way patients receive care around the world. The first one is the very well-known Gamma Knife. The Gamma Knife is an advanced radiation treatment for adults and children with small to medium brain tumors. Lars Leksell invented the Gamma Knife technology in 1967 and founded the company Elekta. Today more than 6,000 hospitals around the world rely on Elekta technology.

Rune Elmqvist, who worked at Siemens in Sweden, developed the first implantable pacemaker in 1958, together with Åke Senning, senior physician and cardiac surgeon at the Karolinska University Hospital in Solna, Sweden. The same year the first pacemaker saved the life of a man who was just about to die. This man, 43 years at the time, lived to be 86 and outlived the man who saved his life.

I want to end this blog post with a special dedication to an invention, which lies especially close to my heart – the dialysis machine. It replaces kidney function for patients with renal failure and since I am active in the renal care industry, I have seen first-hand what this invention means to millions of people every day.

Nils Alwall invented the dialysis machine in 1949 and it became the foundation for the Swedish company Gambro. My company, Diaverum, was once part of Gambro and went under the name Gambro Health Care until 2007.

The introduction of the dialysis machine of course had an enormous impact on the lives of end-stage renal patients. Patients who have lost their kidney function need replacement therapy in order to survive (today this means dialysis or transplant). Before such treatment was available, their lives were not possible to save. Today however, they can live a long life if they receive high-quality dialysis care and take good care of themselves – and currently over 2 million people over the world do!

Foto på Dag Andersson